“I need to lose some weight before I can come to your class.” My friend Esther was interested in getting fit, but the invitation to join me in a bootcamp class was a non-starter. She wouldn’t attend a class that could help her burn fat until she felt she looked like a person who went to fitness classes.
Why is it that we feel we need to look fit before we can get fit–at least in public? Gyms should be places where all bodies feel comfortable moving, after all, that’s what gyms and bodies are for! And yet, as irrational as they may be, insecurities are real and can get in the way of doing the things we should do. It’s frustrating for me as a fitness instructor to think people are missing out on getting stronger and fitter, simply because they fear being judged by other participants. I’d love to offer a blind-folded class, but practicalities (and probably my insurance policy) prevent that from happening. The best I can do is offer some advice and encouragement to show that fitness truly is for every body.
Find your tribe
Despite the reassurance I try to give my friends and clients, I can still understand why they feel reluctant to sign up. As a naturally stocky-framed lady I’m sure I’d feel awkward and out of place in a step aerobics class full Victoria’s Secret models. I can completely understand a 60-year-old woman wanting to avoid a class geared towards 24-year-olds. Fortunately, with a little research you can probably find a class where participants with similar body types as yours. There are classes for seniors, pre-and post-natal bootcamps, and body positive classes that rightfully reject the notion that fit equals thin. Non-profit community classes tend to attract a wider range of body types as well. YMCAs and community centres strive to foster an inclusive atmosphere as opposed to the latest fad gym with selfie walls.
Don’t be put off by advertisements for a new class either. Big companies like to use fitness models in their promotions, which can give an unrealistic impression of their participants. I’ve never seen a gym full of people with 2 per cent body fat and straight, white teeth, like the ones featured on the website–who’s grinning ear-to-ear during a workout anyways? f you’re curious to see what the average fitness class looks like, have a browse of the studios social pages. You may find a more accurate representation of the membership there.
Meet the teacher
Whichever class you decide on, introducing yourself to the instructor when you first arrive will do wonders for reducing your anxiety. A good instructor should see that you’re new and make the first introduction, but if it’s a big class or a new teacher, you may have to take the initiative. Simply saying “hi, this is my first class. Is there anything I should know before we start?” will give him or her an opportunity to welcome you and provide some reassurance. Instructors generally like to know who’s new to a class to be on-hand for extra instruction so they will likely appreciate your conversation.
I’ll often pair up a new student with a regular for their first class so they have someone to show them where equipment is kept and give a little further explanation of exercises if needed. It helps the new person instantly feel more comfortable, plus I know I can focus more on the rest of the class without worrying if the new person is having trouble. I always try to greet a new person but if they come up to me first, it certainly makes my job easier!
Bring a friend
Large classes can be overwhelming and create social anxiety. Particularly gyms like Crossfit, where you may be asked to find a partner, can regurgitate bad memories of high school gym class. Bringing along a fitness friend will eliminate this problem and let you both workout comfortably. After a few sessions you might feel better about coming alone. After all, you can’t rely on your friend’s motivation lasting as long as yours, so don’t let the partnership become a crutch.
Train your brain
It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others and many of us have the tenancy to check out other people in the room to see how well we stack up. It’s a bad habit but, with practice you can overcome it. On your way to your class, give yourself a little positive self talk:
I’m going to push past my limits today and see how strong I am
My body wants to move and I’m going to do what I need to stay healthy
I deserve this exercise and I plan to make it as fun as possible
This is my body, my workout, my health.
“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.”
― Tina Fey, Bossypants
The important thing to remember is that everyone feels insecure about their body at some point in life. Even that woman in class who looks like a bikini model: while she may look like she’s part of the gym furniture, she too may be comparing herself to “fitspo” models on Instagram and worrying about living up to impossible standards. The point is: we all spend way too much time comparing ourselves to others to the point where we forget how to just appreciate our bodies for how they move us.
The beauty of a group fitness class is being in a room full of like-minded participants. Once you’re able to overcome your self-doubt, you can start to enjoy the social atmosphere and use the group energy to fuel your workout. Try a few classes until you find one that fits your vibe. Whatever your fitness goals are, consistency is key, so take the time to find the right place for you and own it! Your fellow gym members will appreciate your positive attitude and can benefit from your enthusiasm. Once you allow yourself out of your comfort zone, you may realize you’re in a room full of people who were just as worried as you were. When self-doubt creeps in, just adjust your ponytail, sip your water and let your stress get washed away by the sweat. This is your workout and no one else’s.